The Five Biggest Mistakes Organisations Make When Hiring Innovators

The innovator does not think like a traditional employee. Hiring practices need modification in order to attract and retain innovative minds.

The innovator / entrepreneur can bring a wealth of value to any organisation, as their skillset and experience will span leadership, teams, new product or process development and implementation, budgeting, sales and marketing as well as the honed ability to navigate complexity.

There are many innovator / entrepreneurs in the job market, as not every business or start-up journey becomes a success story. These individuals still need an outlet for their abilities, as well as a form of income, and are often willing to join an existing organisation to play the role of intrapreneur or innovator.

With many organisations needing to innovate to remain current and relevant, the ability to hire and retain these types of individuals is critical.

However, the innovator / entrepreneur does not think like your average employee. Traditional HR practices are unlikely to attract (and will certainly not retain) the types of individuals you are looking for.

The following mistakes organisations have made in attempting to hire and retain innovative individuals are based on real life events and experiences during job hire processes:

Mistake # 1: The siloed role and job specification

A strong innovator / entrepreneur is unlikely to feel comfortable in a role that is designed to operate in a silo. The innovator / entrepreneur naturally seeks to work across boundaries, to collaborate and co-create. This applies not only to producing innovative solutions, but also to their everyday working style.

The innovator / entrepreneur will blur the boundaries of any role they are allocated and all other roles around them, taking on tasks that belong in other roles to get a job done more efficiently or to prevent a block from happening.

Some individuals in your organisation may feel like their toes have been stepped on by the innovator/entrepreneur and are likely to become defensive.

Set up the role in such a way that the innovator / entrepreneur is allowed to operate across their role within certain limits to avoid unnecessary conflicts. By granting them upfront permission to be themselves, they will excel in their duties, get others around them to deliver high results and will propose working on phenomenal strategies and organisational fixes that will propel your organisation to the next level.

Mistake # 2: Starting the interview process with panel interviews or psychometric tests (instead of practical demonstrations of abilities)

The innovator / entrepreneur can showcase themselves best through a practical demonstration of their skillsets.

Ask them to put together a presentation that demonstrates how they would go about establishing and implementing a key component of their role or ask them to partake in a mini project where they can show you a cross section of their abilities in real time.

Not only will you get to see a deeper picture of the value the individual can bring, but you will also get to see how their innovative mind works in the context of your organisation.

Mistake # 3: Considering their side-hustle a conflict of interest

If an innovator / entrepreneur is applying for a role at your organisation, the likelihood of them having a side hustle of some kind is high. This is because their very nature is to start new things that they can feel a sense of ownership in.  

An organisation’s initial reaction may be that the side-hustle will take time and resources away from the role in question, but the opposite is often true. If an innovator/ entrepreneur’s side hustle is seen to bring additional value to the role instead of being an obstacle to the role, the individual is likely to share their networks, their findings and even their offerings from the side-hustle with the hiring organisation as a part of their role.

A side-hustle viewed as a competing offering is often an offering that can be brought into the hiring organisation as a joint initiative. The innovator / entrepreneur will work ten times as hard for you if this is the case, in both the role they are hired to perform and in the joint initiative which enables them to express who they are.

Seeing conflicts of interest through a lense of collaboration can bring exponential value versus shutting it out and chasing away a strong resource.

Mistake # 4: Expecting the innovator / entrepreneur to shift your entire organisation on their own

The innovator / entrepreneur is often perceived as the magic bullet to fix or innovate upon years and years of legacy operations. This expectation is often disguised under a task to perform some form of change management. This is unfair and unrealistic, as one person cannot fix every legacy issue on their own, over and above producing deliverables that they are being performance managed for. This can lead to major burnout.

If massive change is required in your organisation, ensure the innovator/ entrepreneur has a change management team and the right leaders (with the right mindsets) around them for support, or make the key cultural and structural shifts prior to hiring the innovator / entrepreneur.

Mistake # 5: Perceiving lower abilities because they have worked for themselves

An innovator / entrepreneur with a lack of corporate experience may have a learning curve in terms of navigating larger company life, but by no means does this mean that they are less capable. Bear in mind that they are used to working at a faster pace and achieving things with fewer resources. Navigating a slower pace and waiting on others to execute is their biggest challenge. Someone who has had their own business will have developed a broader range of skills than a traditional employee. They will be able to contribute far beyond the scope of any predetermined role. Let them have some leeway to showcase what they can bring to your organisation instead of blocking their efforts. Support them with an orientation process that covers organisational process and a mechanism for them to share any ideas.


The innovator / entrepreneur is becoming an increasingly sought-after individual by organisations embracing new ways of doing things. It is time for companies to enable innovator/entrepreneurs to join them and stay with them, instead of making them feel like they have no choice but to struggle on their own to express who they are in life. This starts with making changes to the hiring and onboarding process.

Lauren Fleiser

Lauren Fleiser

Lauren is the creator of The Collective Organisation and is an entrepreneur, educator and innovator, fully immersed in the world of boundary spanning innovation.

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